A look at history shows us that none of the Christmas traditions observed have anything, whatsoever, to do with Jesus or Christianity.
In fact, Bible forbids the decoration of trees (see Jeremiah 10). That is the case because around the time the old testament was written, people knew that some cultures and traditions already did worship trees and vegetation and decorated them as part of their religious rituals.
Centuries before the Christ was allegedly born, many cultures – in response to the changes in the natural world such as the changing of the seasons – brought evergreen trees into their homes for decoration in the month of December to celebrate the beginning of winter.
Much like the celebration of All Hallows’ Eve, or Halloween, originally influenced by western European harvest festivals and festivals of the dead with possible pagan roots, particularly the Celtic Samhain. The original spelling of the Celtic festival of Samhain was Samuin. Samuin was the name of the festival historically kept by the Gaels and celts in the British Isles and the name itself is derived from Old Irish and means roughly “summer’s end”. It marked the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the ‘darker half’ of the year. This was a time for stock-taking and preparing for the cold winter ahead; cattle were brought back down from the summer pastures and livestock were slaughtered. In much of the Gaelic world, bonfires were lit and there were rituals involving them.
Samhain was seen as a time when the ‘door’ to the Otherworld opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings such as fairies, to come into our world. The souls of the dead were said to revisit their homes on Samhain. Feasts were had, at which the souls of dead kin were beckoned to attend and a place set at the table for them. However, harmful spirits and fairies were also thought to be active at Samhain. People took steps to allay or ward-off these harmful spirits/fairies, which is thought to have influenced today’s Halloween customs, such as placing fire inside a Pumpkin or originally turnips to thwart off those bad spirits.
I have always found the connection and fusion of the natural and human world and the integration of the former into human customs and traditions very fascinating. In response to the movement and rotation of the Earth in relation to the sun and with it the creation of the seasons – from the fruit full, warm and long days of the spring and summer months to the dead, frigid cold and dark season of the winter – a myriad of traditions and practices have developed, especially when it comes to observing the changes of the seasons. All Hallows Eve, a festival to bid farewell to the light part of the year in order to welcome the dark is one example of such pagan tradition and why we celebrate Halloween.
The other is Christmas.
Evergreens were used in ancient pagan celebration of the Winter solstice as a reminder of the green plants that would return with the resurgence of the sun god. The practice continued in various forms throughout the ages.
The ancient Egyptians honored their son god Ra with palm leaves and evergreens.
The early Romans decorated their homes and temples with evergreen as part of the Saturnalia festival – the festival of Saturn, the god of agriculture.
The Vikings of Scandinavia believed that evergreens were the special plant of their god Baldur and they burned yule logs in feast until the last amber burned out.
The actual Christian tradition involving Christmas trees appeared in Germany in the 16th century while Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols throughout the US until the 1840s.
The Winter solstice accounts for the selection of Christmas day as December 25th. People noticed that in late December the days became noticeably shorter and the sun ceased its movement to the south. So the Winter solstice was celebrated for the birth of the sun. The US did not even make Christmas day a national Holiday until June 26, 1870.
The exchanges of gifts is also pagan in origin stemming back to the festival of Saturnalia and originally banned for that reason by the catholic church in the middle ages.
Christmas carols trace back to the middle ages as well, however, not as religious songs, but as common folk songs sung during harvest festivals. They were only later integrated into worship by religious figures like Martin Luther.
The mistletoe is a happy Christmas tradition but few consider that the mistletoe was once considered a mysterious and magical plant by the Druids and the Greeks and the pagan symbol of life and fertility. In Scandinavia mistletoe was considered the plant of peace under which enemies could declare a truce.
Christianity Has Nothing To Do With it
When Christianity began being forced on people and took over other religious and spiritual beliefs, especially the pagan traditions of above, those traditions were often preserved and carried over but now they were celebrated in the name of the new God, Jesus Christ. In a way Christians fused the old pagan traditions with Christianity, with the “desired” effect of getting more converts that way. That they picked Christmas to fulfill their religiosity and not All Hallow’s Eve is completely arbitrary as both are pagan traditions celebrating the transition of the seasons.
I’m a fan of Christmas. I enjoy time with family and friends, time off work, the light display, decorating, the sounds and smells of the season, snowmen, toy stores and Christmas markets. However, I celebrate the season understanding that none of it is related to Jesus Christ or Christianity and that the customs found in Christmas are strongly rooted in pagan folklore and traditions, which, in turn, find their origins in the natural world around us – celestial bodies and the position of the planets and with them the resulting seasons, summer and winter, life and death.
If you think about the importance of Solstice for our ancestors who lived without the convenience of electricity, gas heat and stored food, Solstice would have been the first light at the end of the tunnel during the cold half of the year. That’s what it is really about. All the religiosity around it is 100% and completely man made, much like religion itself.
It is also sad, in a way, to see people turn generous, loving and giving for around one month of the year, just so they can go back and behave in the same greedy, self serving, assholish ways for the rest of the year lobbying for the poor to get less benefits and showing up at rallies for universal health care with guns seriously holding the view that if you do not have access to health care services and thus cannot pay for them, you deserve to get sick and subsequently die. The thing is, if you are a Christian, Christmas should be everyday, not just one day a year because let me remind all those pious people of what their very own savior, in the very book they believe to be the truth once said “whatever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me” (Matthew 25:40)
Given the history of Christmas and the facts surrounding its existence, it feels almost surreal to me that anyone would draw a connection between the two and decidedly make Christmas a Christian holiday with all the Christian symbols and talk thrown in, including that charlatan the Pope. When people then get upset that there is a war on Christmas and thus indirectly on Christianity, the surrealism and absurdity of it all takes on a whole new level. Much as it is the case with all religion, it is as if these people created a hell of their own making and now whine that they are being persecuted.
In other words, much like their religion, the notion that Christmas is about Christianity is all in the head of religious people who set all these artificial rules around it and then complain they are not being adhered to by everyone and even whine that they are being allegedly persecuted for insisting that Christmas is about Christianity and Jesus, instead of a pagan holiday that has been co-opted by religious nut jobs to get more converts and thus push their nonsensical, religious agenda.